“Forty-nine points?” Charles Leclerc asked after someone questioned his Formula 1 World Championship deficit ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix. “Two victories and it is done!” he reckoned with a grin.
That may very well be, but with Max Verstappen on the other side of that void, it’s wishful thinking. Or is it?
Statistics are a wonderful thing. You can twist them any which way you wish. And if it makes enough sense, it will always hold water. Especially if you consider Charles’ qualifying pace so far this year. Leclerc has put his SF75 on pole position six times in the nine races so far.
Not only does that propel him into the hallowed ground of the top three Ferrari drivers ever in qualifying, but it also makes for some other mightily impressive statistical reading.
From pole to nothing. Statistics are unkind for Leclerc
Looking at failed pole positions, for instance, the last Ferrari driver to twice retire off pole was Michael Schumacher in 2000. He was champion that year, remember. His first in red, too.
Charles is however a novice when it comes to converting pole positions into retirements. Jim Clark did that 14 times, Ayrton Senna 11. Leclerc? Only three times. To me, that’s a pretty promising stat, no?
Mika Hakkinen was the last driver to be world champion after twice retiring in the first three races of 1999. And the last time Ferrari suffered more than three mechanical failures in the first eight races of a season was four times in 2009. But let’s rather worry about the future.
Right now, Leclerc lies third in the F1 World Championship chase, ‘just’ 49 points behind Verstappen. With thirteen Grands Prix still to race.
The Monegasque remains realistic on his chances. “Reliability is a concern this season,” he concedes. “If we can fix that, we have the performance to come back. “So, from Silverstone, we will be trying to gain points back.”
The sport is of course littered with tales of incredible come-from-behind world championship successes. It’s a difficult one to compare on the face of it, considering the many different F1 points systems over the years.
Formula 1 is Littered With Epic Comeback Champions
But if you convert all those championships to today’s system, some of those comebacks appear quite epic. Modern race fans may even remember Sebastian Vettel stealing the 2010 F1 title from Fernando Alonso; Rosberg from Hamilton.
Emerson Fittipaldi took the 1974 title off Clay Regazzoni and Alain Prost pulled back almost 30 points in two races to take it from Nigel Mansell in 1986. And then Nelson Piquet clawed back the equivalent of 37 points over three races to beat Prost in ’83.
Those however don’t even make it into the Top Ten of Come From Behind Formula 1 World Championship Title Wins. Niki Lauda for instance, came back from 42 points adrift to win it in ‘84, while Vettel once again overcame a 44-point deficit to take the 2012 title. Keke Rosberg and Michael Schumacher both clawed back from a 2022 equivalent of 45 points behind, in 1982 and 2003 respectively.
Worked out in today’s points, Jody Scheckter was 47 of today’s points behind before he turned it around to take the 1979 title. One point further back than Leclerc is today.
That’s a similar gap to what Nelson Piquet bridged to take an even more impressive comeback title two years later in 1981. Ayrton Senna was 18 1988 points behind before fighting back to take the ’88 title. That’s the same as 50 2022 points.
And still not enough to earn Senna a place among Formula 1’s top three Comeback Champion Kings.
Jams Hunt is the real F1 comeback king
Third best was John Surtees. He clawed back the equivalent of 56 points over three races,to beat Graham Hill to a most controversial ’64 title. Kimi Raikkonen takes silver for hitting back from 72 behind points to overhaul Lewis Hamilton in 2007.
The Comeback King was however James Hunt in 1976. He made up an equivalent of ninety-seven 2022 championship points to famously steal the title from Niki Lauda. This means Hunt needed seven races to overcome his deficit of almost four Grand Prix wins worth of points.
Not every fightback has been successful, either. Michael Schumacher infamously nerfed Damon Hill’s attempt to complete his 31-point turnaround. And not every comeback fight has been completed on track. Like Hunt ves Lauda in 1976.
That one was mainly down to Lauda missing those races after his fiery crash. As was Keke Rosberg coming back against a stricken Didier Pironi in 1982. And Hakkinen overcoming Irvine 23 years later, in a hurt Michael Schumacher’s absence.
Now considering all the above, and that Charles Leclerc is only 49 points behind Max Verstappen in this year’s chase heading to Silverstone, that does not seem all that big a gap to overcome with as many as 13 races still to run.
Or let’s put it this way, there are sill 325 world championship points still up for grabs. All Ferrari needs to do is turn that 6 out of 9 pole position record so far his season, into six wins out of the next nine Grands Prix. Which would make for an incredible final four Grands Prix of 2022.
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) June 27, 2022
Of course there is the ‘small’ matter of Max Verstappen and Red Bull…
Of course, there is still the ‘small matter of Max Verstappen and Red Bull being the main man to catch. He’s beaten Leclerc twice in a straight fight this year and seems indomitable right now. As fickle as that may seem considering some of the facts above.
Leclerc’s real issue this year has however been Ferrari trouble. So all may not be lost. At least not yet. Abu Dhabi is still far enough away on Sunday 20 November.
But to be back in the frame then: Ferrari’s time is now. Now let’s just see if they can pull it off… (Michele Lupini is the publisher of Spout Africa-based Auto website)